Gallup Survey: Only Two States Have Obesity Rates Below 20%

Obesity is lowest in Hawaii, highest in West Virginia

At 18.5%, Hawaii has the lowest adult obesity rate in the United States, followed by Colorado at 19.8%, according to a new Gallup survey. They are the only two states in which the obesity rate is below 20%. West Virginia has the highest adult obesity rate, at 37.0%. In addition, at least one in three adults is obese in Mississippi, Delaware, Arkansas, and Oklahoma.

These data, from telephone interviews conducted in 2015, are based on U.S. adults’ self-reports of their height and weight, which were then used to calculate body mass index (BMI) scores. Americans who have a BMI of 30 or higher are classified as obese.

The national obesity rate reached a new high of 28.0% in 2015, up significantly from 25.5% in 2008, when Gallup began tracking obesity. Fourteen states showed statistically significant increases in their obesity rates from 2008 to 2015, while no state registered a statistically significant decline. Maine, West Virginia, Idaho, and Oklahoma experienced the sharpest upticks in obesity.

Of the 18 states with obesity rates of at least 30%, all but one were located in the South or Midwest. The 11 states with obesity rates below 25% were located in the Northeast or West.

Given that obesity is associated with illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, stroke, osteoarthritis, and some forms of cancer, the medical costs for an obese person amounted to $1,429 more per year than for a person of normal weight for his or her size, according to research conducted in 2008 by RTI International and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. After adjusting for inflation, the annual medical costs for 2015 were $1,573 more for an obese person than for a person of normal weight.

Gallup calculated the incremental cost of health care per year for each state by multiplying the estimated number of obese people in the state’s population by the annual incremental $1,573 cost of obesity per person.

In the five most-obese states, the annual incremental cost of obesity per 100,000 residents averaged $54 million. By contrast, the average cost was $34 million in the five least-obese states. In other words, per capita medical costs attributable to obesity were approximately 1.6 times higher in the five states with the highest obesity rates than in the states with the five lowest rates.

As adult obesity rates continue to rise both nationally and within many states, preventable health care costs will also rise, Gallup predicts. But reducing obesity rates is no easy task. Gallup previously found that Americans are twice as likely to say that they want to lose weight as to say that they are seriously trying to do so.

The survey results were based on telephone interviews conducted from January 2 to December 30, 2015, with a random sample of 177,281 adults (18 years of age and older) living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia

Source: Gallup; May 11, 2016.